Writers who have worked with me via my services at Scriptadvice.co.uk know that I consider planning and structuring your stories as important as creating them in the first place.
Art and artifice go hand in hand in television drama. We love ideas, characters, emotionally engaging and dramatic stories, but we also love a good structure; a clear, deft shape that aids and facilitates the stories in the episode. The frame work needs to be there to support your craft and designing that framework is a craft in itself.
So when you get an idea for a story you want to tell for television you two things in quick succession:
1/ Talk it out.
Either to an accessible ear, or to yourself. Air it. Literally. The Story Supremo that is Frank Cottrell-Boyce, gave this as one of the first things anyone should do when they set about writing a story. It is such a simple act; almost obvious, but something I would wager few writers actually do. I adopted this forth with. I also suggest to every writer I work with, to do the same. Speaking the story, you quickly realise if it is easy or hard to encapsulate what it is you are trying to say and it also becomes clear as to whether there really is a story here to tell. So often in my experience as both a Script Editor and Drama Producer, writers will bring a story to the table which, under the development microscope reveals itself to be mere incidents and moments. One thing must lead to another in a good story. The narrative needs to be driving forward and there needs to be an engine driving it. Talking the story out starts the ignition and if you stall, then you know where the narrative problems lie.
2/ Write it down.
Firstly, work out the main plot beats of your story line, to check that there is enough material here to warrant at least a couple of episodes and to make sure it packs an emotional punch too.
I recommend keeping to a page per storyline when you are first coming up with material for your series drama. This is all about getting the idea down, and out into the world and no longer in your head. If you give too much detail here, you will become bogged down and your attention will be diverted towards detail that is needed further along the development path of your series.
You need to be looking for an interesting jump off point, a couple of twists, and a great cliff hanger style ending.
So that’s the plot bit. Next the subtext.
Make sure when you write your paragraphs (roughly a paragraph per scene) that you focus on exploring the subtext of each character affected by the storyline.
For eg: in a story line that is about betrayal, love, and loss you may write something like:
‘X refuses to let Y see how much the letter she wrote to Z is hurting him. He will not give her or Z the satisfaction. Y defends Z. X hardens. Y, sensing him shut down, reacts badly. There are tears and shouting. What did Y hope to achieve? She doesn’t know. X can’t help her. By the end, they are both exhausted. Love really has died’.
You give here a suggestion of deep emotion, the subtext of both X and Y, a plot beat and the ending. The tone is clear. There is no dialogue but this scene pushes the story line on a notch.
This sort of record, as you go through your story lines, will give you a clear idea of the pace, the tone, the rhythm of each story line.
You can see here, the text and subtext working together.
If your story lines do this, you are on the right track.
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My book Writing for Television; Series, Serials and Soaps is a set text in two MA screenwriting colleges and a must if you want to get your head around the ins and outs of writing for tv: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Television-Yvonne-Grace/dp/1843443376/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400840643&sr=1-7&keywords=writing+for+television
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